swantobe

Ballet/dance historians?

17 posts in this topic

In The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden she mentions a list of careers in the dance world, including 'choreographer, dance teacher, dance historian, dance doctor, dance critic, dance notator, dance photographer, dance administrator...' (Eliza Gaynor Minden, The Ballet Companion, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005, p. XV). I know that ballet history is taught at universities, but to what extent is this a "viable" profession? Let me qualify the last statement by saying that I mean: to what extent are there ballet/dance historians out there who do that and only that (and usually the lecturing and research component in a university setting)? I know that art history and music history are sometimes taught by professors who specialise in the history of the art particularly, but is this as true for the dance world?

 

If this is a "viable" profession, how does one go about getting into it?

Ballet and history are my two passions, and the thought of marrying the two in a career... :(

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When I think of dance historians, I think of those who have researched, written, and published books, which one could feasibly make a living from. There isn't really a large target audience for such works as there would be for, say, Civil War history or the history of the internal combustion engine, so I don't know that dance historians make a comfortable living solely in that way. They might, though.

 

I had dance history in college, but not from a professor who was exclusively a "dance historian"; one of the faculty with a penchant for dance history and cultural studies taught those classes.

 

Dance history fascinates me. I'd love to be a dance historian when I'm an old lady who has to teach from a chair. :(

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Historians don't go into the field for the money (q.v. my tax return), but dance historians have an even narrower audience. Most dance historians do it as an adjunct to a main source of income, like journalism (which is NOT history), teaching, or working fulltime in some other branch of history or dance that actually provides a regular paycheck.

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I doubt that there are any academics who teach ONLY dance history FULL-TIME. Given the fact that most college dance majors will take a dance history class (I say dance history rather than ballet history), it is usually just ONE class. Observing the job market for dance scholars, there seems to be an increasing tendency to be a versatile teacher, e.g. you have developed a portfolio of course you can teach (that move far beyond just ballet history).

 

It is also worth mentioning that it takes a long time to become a dance scholar: 4 years of undergrad, 2 years masters, 5 years (or plus) doctoral studies... There are certainly jobs on the market; however, it's tough competition. Branching out with a diverse portfolio (history, cultural studies, education, etc...) is certainly recommended and/or necessary (and adding doctoral minors to have enough graduate credits to teach cross-listed classes).

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I just glanced at the dance history books on my shelf (mainly about Royal Ballet), and I'm thinking that many of these authors are well-known dance critics, publishing as 'journalists' in leading newspapers. Mr. Johnson, would that fit in with a larger trend amongst dance historians?

 

I will say that I saw a great deal of historical talks regarding dance/ballet whilst in England, but most of the speakers came to their point of knowledge from a specific frame -- musicians, for example, or even notators, etc.... Dance history in and of it self, whilst narrow, is still broad! :(

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Or you could just be independently wealthy and publish on your own to establish a credential. :(

 

The Neumann definition of expert: "Someone with a greater than average interest".

 

The Fangboner addition to Neumann's definition: "And a big mouth".

 

The Anson definition of expert: "Some guy from out of town with slides".

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... I'm thinking that many of these authors are well-known dance critics, publishing as 'journalists' in leading newspapers. Mr. Johnson, would that fit in with a larger trend amongst dance historians?

 

Yes, ami, that's a good fit. Journalists provide historians with raw material for a developed history, and are often wonderful primary sources in themselves, but they can also be quite expert at synthesizing facts and occurrences into actual history.

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I would say it depends on what kind of books you are talking about. Most scholarly publications are written by academics rather than journalists/critics.

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That's one audience. But a general reading audience or a coffee-table book doesn't have to be a scholarly work. One of my students wrote a scholarly work on dance - a textbook. I have yet to read it, for I have yet to be able to AFFORD it.

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Yes, but there's a difference between popular and academic historians -- but I have found in narrower fields, there's more interaction and overlap between the two.

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Yes, I was more talking about academic books (in reference to dance historians who conduct research at a university as mentioned in the initial post) rather than coffee table publications.

 

Ami, I would say there can be an overlap, aka non/fiction-as-research. Certainly an interesting and valuable overlap.

 

Mel, agreed, textbooks are expensive!

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:o

I think we're all in agreement!

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Lau, I'm principally a theatre historian, specialising in my research on the British theatre of the late 18th to early 20th century (although I teach a lot more than that). I'm currently leading a large funded project on 19th century pantomime, which will have quite a lot about dance history, and particularly the role of Romantic ballet in the popular theatre.

 

But as D_S_L says, it's a long road, and you need to be academically at the top -- I have 2 honours degrees (in English LIt and History) and then did a PhD, and undertook the long process of finding the right kinds of academic jobs. In the UK, there are dance historians (as DSL says it's "dance" rather than simply ballet), in Dance and/or Theatre Departments. Eg Alexandra Carter, Rachel Fensham. But there aren't many and posts are rarely advertised specifically for dance historians. And generally one needs to have other strings to the bow.

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Doug Fullington at PNB is a dance historian. Here is his bio

 

He is reconstructing Giselle next year for PNB. From the Press release on Ballet Talk - "The final performances of the season will unveil a world premiere staging of the classic Giselle. This production marks the first time an American company has revived ballet’s great tragedy based on original material researched by Stepanov dance notation expert, Doug Fullington, in collaboration with leading Giselle scholar Marian Smith."

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Wow, I honestly didn't expect so many responses - thank you! I don't have much time now but I wanted just to mention that I will be completing my bachelor's degree in History and English Literature at the end of this year, and at the moment, the plan is to study for my honour's degree in History next year. So, I'm on the beginning of the footpath towards further studies in history.

 

Part of my interest in dance history is that I think that I would like to see whether or not certain socio-political conditions may have fed into the type of ballets created and also I'd like to know more about the intermingling of the dance, music, art and drama worlds in the creation of ballets of the past. And then, I found a thread somewhere on the history forum suggested that no one had ever truly studied what happened to dancers during the French Revolution and the subsequent reign of terror. It'd be interesting to know things about whether or not ballet would have developed the way it did if it weren't for the interest of certain Royal families. The above are just a few examples of topics that I'd love to know more about.

 

Another question: What exactly would a ballet notator do?

 

And I notice Ms Gaynor Minden forgot dance accompanists in her list of "dance professions"...being an RAD accompanist is my back-up plan if all else fails :)

 

:rolleyes: Mr Johnson, are you sure you don't have a double who is a slightly eccentric Englishman teaching history in South Africa? You say so many of the same things sometimes and you have the same sense of humour! :)

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